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Money used in New Testament Times

Julian Spriggs M.A.

We should note that there were three different currencies in circulation in NT times, and each are mentioned in the gospels: Jewish, Greek and Roman.

The way the name of the coin is translated into English varies in different translations of the Bible. Because of rapid currency fluctuations and inflation, it is not always helpful or meaningful to translate the coins into their direct English equivalent. However many versions of the Bible provide a footnote with the Greek name of the coin.

The list below shows the different coins in circulation in ascending order of value, and notes some of the places where they are mentioned in the NT. The Greek word for the coin is in brackets.

Lepton (plural lepta) - Greek copper coin, worth half a Roman quadrans

The widow’s two small copper coins (lepta) (Mk 12:42, Lk 21:2)
Pay debts to the last penny (lepton) (Lk 12:59)

Quadrans - Roman copper coin, worth two Greek lepta

Widow’s two small copper coins (lepta), worth a penny (quadrans) (Mk 12:42)
Pay debt to the last penny (quadrans) (Mk 5:26)

As or Assarion - Roman copper coin, worth eight quadrans

Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? (assarion) (Mt 10:29)
Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? (assarion) (Lk 12:6)

Drachma (plural drachmae) - Greek silver coin, equivalent to a Roman denarius

The woman’s lost silver coin (drachma) (Lk 15:8)

Denarius (plural denarii) - Roman silver coin, equivalent to a Greek drachma, worth 16 assarions

The daily wage for a labourer (denarius) (Mt 20:9-13).
The two coins the good Samaritan paid the innkeeper (two denarii) (Lk 10:35)
The unforgiving servant was owed 100 denarii (Mt 18:28)
The tax paid to the emperor (denarius) (Lk 20:23)

Didrachmon - Greek silver coin, worth two Roman denarii

The temple tax (didrachma) (Mt 17:24)

Shekel - Jewish silver coin, equivalent to one Greek stater, or tetradrachmon

Stater, or Tetradrachmon - Greek silver coin, worth four drachmae or four denarii

The temple tax found in the fish’s mouth for two people (stater) (Mt 17:27)
Judas’ thirty pieces of silver? (Mt 26:15)

Aureus (plural aurei) - Roman gold coin, worth 25 denarii

Take no gold? (Mt 10:9)

Mna, or Mina - no coin, worth 100 drachmae, or four aurei

Parable of pounds (minas) (Lk 19:13)

Talent - no coin, worth 60 minas or 6000 denarii

Parable of talents (Mt 25:14)
The unforgiving servant's debt of 10,000 talents (Mt 18:25)

The modern value of the coins can be approximately calculated from the fact that a denarius was a day's wages for a labourer. This is indicated by the parable of the workers in the vineyard, who were all paid a denarius (Mt 20:1-16). The modern equivalent of the worth of a denarius in the U.K. (a day's wages for a labourer) in the early twenty-first century could be considered as being about £64 (8 hours at £8 per hour), giving a salary of about £12,000 per year. So, the debt of 10,000 talents in the parable of the unmerciful servant (Mt 18:21) was equivalent to around 300,000 years salary, a modern equivalent of £4 billion - an unimaginable personal debt, and great forgiveness.

There are many web-sites with photographs and descriptions of coins in circulation in the first century.